9 Sports World Insights For Coaching

Coaches in sport are on stage in such a totally exposed manner that it generates an amazing laboratory, showcased by bright lights and microscopes, to study visuals we can utilize to improve our daily coaching practices.

Do sports coaches have favorite players to coach and those they would rather avoid? Absolutely.  

“Our parenting is defined by how we treat the child that tests us the most.” ~ Stephen Covey

What does great coaching look like? Media catches every second of the exact body language, words, and actions of sport coaches in their best and worst moments! Imagine you are coaching an employee in your office, and as you listen to a disgruntled, whining, stubborn, or difficult employee, you realize there are both a microphone and a camera aimed at you! We think others see what we see, as the employee is the target of our emotions. Actually, great coaching is visualized when the target of others emotions is us, not the employee. And people watching us are studying our eye motions, sweating, squirming, or yawning.  

Rule #1: Pretend your coaching with an employee is on the air. What would you do differently if you were coaching someone on live TV, the radio, or the internet? Maybe you would make sure the fact that you really care or that you are truly listening comes across. Great coaching is intentional and requires the discipline to think, listen, ask thoughtful questions, and make fewer statements.

Rule #2: Pretend every private word you utter is going to appear in the Washington Post. Sports coaches’ comments that appear in newsprint are dissected in a constant, almost inhuman, way. Would your words be read differently by the public than by your employee who receives them? I suspect they would, and perhaps it requires us to consider using more planning and forethought and less emotional statements. Coaching is a thinking job, not a doing job.

Rule #3: Check your face. Mike Scioscia is the Los Angeles Angels’ MLB head coach. I don’t know if he is a great coach, as he alternates team success and failures year in and year out. What I do know, is that you cannot determine if he is happy, mad, or sad at any moment, based on what the TV broadcasts show. He is stoic. Is that good? Yes, in terms of not allowing the media to determine his coaching success or failure, rather the players are his audience. They will know if he is a good or bad coach, based on what they need and not what non-players see on TV. It’s called game-face.

Rule #4: Manage your and others’ self-talk less the mechanical behaviors.  We need to see and hear the behaviors to understand them, but to focus on the behavior change only, is mechanical. “Say this..” or “do that ..”., is less effective without improving self-talk. Great coaching is understanding the mental narrative or self-talk players have going on during a play. In a quiet space, not the heat of battle, great coaches help players reframe the visual in their mind, so they can perform at their best.  

With hard hit ground balls in baseball, great coaches help players lean into the speeding ball, when every ounce of the fielders’ brain is telling them to back away. Great coaches slow down the game to improve understanding the physics and gravity in ways to change players’ thinking and actions. Influencing others’ thinking is them WANTING to SEE the change in their mind. Behavior change occurs when players think differently.

Rule #5: Take a time out. We think time outs are for players but I believe coaches need a time out even more. Rarely do we see a coach just take a day off. Being in the right frame of mind to coach is everything to coaching success. Even if a player needs to talk to you or wants your opinion, if you are agitated or thinking hard about something else, you must reschedule that talk. Otherwise we go through the motions and are not truly present – and they know it! Call a time out, regroup your emotions, and get back into the coaching game after a brief nap, walk around the block, workout, a few deep breaths or a cup of coffee. In FAA terms, “Put your mask on first before you try to help someone else with their mask.”

Rule #6: You are the coach even when you’re not coaching. Sports coaches are always the “Coach” even when are sitting on airplanes, buying groceries, or taking their kids to the park. Do we think of ourselves as always the coach, or do we think coaching is what we do at work sometimes, but not during our personal time? Coaches fail, not so much with others, but rather with  themselves. They say certain values and ethics define them, and one slip up in public, not the dugout, can bring down their credibility as a coach.

When is a king not the king? In coaching we are always the coach, and we need to understand our success is more often the things seen and heard by others when we are not coaching.

Rule #7: Yelling is appropriate if you are protecting a child from crossing the street in traffic and if an employee is going in a harmful direction for themselves and others. Sparky Anderson, one of baseball’s most beloved coaches, was stoic and rarely showed emotion, except on certain occasions. He would become irate and yell and verbally attack a wrongdoing. It was never directed at the umpire, but at the umpire’s actions, and it was usually to defend his players, whom he was protecting like a child in traffic. We call that type of outward emotion – a method to their madness. We have a word for yelling at people at the wrong time or in the wrong way – childish.

Sparky knew his actions of over-emotion would be judged by his players, fans, and the media as appropriate for player protection or the rules of the game being harmed, in that moment. Our raised voices around the purpose of our team or greater benefit for others, may be deemed justified by others, but not if we are yelling for being late to a meeting, or about a simple memo misspelling. Think of the greatest sports coaches of all time – they used all human emotions, joy, sadness, anger and hundreds more. Touching our emotions at the right time and for the right reason drives great followership!  

Rule #8: Be prepared to get booed. Every coach in every second of every play gets booed. Focus your coaching effort to the needs of that one individual or team to achieve a goal. Don’t worry about society and spectators. Sports coaches are masters of tuning out noise, or those noises that distract from the greater good. Ps. The greater good involves real benefit to others’ well being, not to our own self or our ego.

Rule #9: Manage the fear. Every coach gets scared and fearful of everything. Remember Rule #6, about emotions. Great coaches have many emotions to relate to various challenges and players – and that assists their greatness.

If these emotions are not checked and left hanging out there all the time, the team and individuals will lose confidence and in a real sense, capability. Too many outward emotions shine an even brighter light on the coach, when the results and focus of good coaching should be on the players or employees, not the coach.   

Greater coaching is mostly in the locker room, not the dugout!

Coach like a Champ, not a Chump.


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